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Title: [Italian Opera in New Orleans]

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: April 15, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00587

Source: New York Aurora 15 April 1842: [2]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue. Original issue held at the Paterson Free Public Library, Paterson, NJ. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the journalism, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Casey Lampitt, Jason Stacy, Joey Miles, and Kevin McMullen




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ITALIAN OPERA IN NEW ORLEANS.—We perceive by the New Orleans papers that "Somnambula" has been brought out there, and that Mrs. Sutton has produced quite a sensation in the principal character. The "corps" has been playing for some time in that capital—but hitherto, from some underhand intrigue, Mrs. Sutton was kept in the back ground—Morning Herald.

The above piece of stupid humbug is, of course, from Bennett's pen.1 No other paper in the country but his ever attempted to soft soap La Signora Fatoni Sutton—as she desired him to style her—into a prima donna.2 Only read the puff direct, and the stupidity is obvious. First, he says she has made quite a sensation, and, secondly, that by some underhand intrigue, she was kept in the back ground. Was there ever such inconsistency? The fact is, La Signora Fat-oni is only a second rate singer, and about a third rate musician. She had a fair chance at the Park,3 in Norma, and could not succeed in drawing even the expenses. As a concert singer, she was thrown into the shade by Borghese, and yet she had the temerity to go to Havana and New Orleans to test the public favor with that accomplished artist.

We hope they will keep La Signora Fatoni at the south, for here we have some real musical and dramatic talent which is quite unavailable. At the present time we have Mr. and Mrs. Seguin,4 and Manvers,5 wanting an engagement at the Park. We have Miss Ayres6 and Miss Horn,7 with Chapman,8 Lambert,9 Tom Placide,10 John Sefton,11 T.D. Rice,12 and several others. Next week we shall have Forrest13 and Clifton14 here, so that we do hope our fair, fat, and forty friend, La Signora, as she loves to be called, will stay away until we send for her, and that will be a long while first. Nobody but Bennett ever tried to persuade the people that Mrs. Sutton could sing—but heaven spare us from ever seeing her attempt to act again!


Notes:

1. James Gordon Bennett was the founder and editor of the New York Herald, a paper whose stances often clashed strongly with those of the Aurora during Whitman's tenure. [back]

2. Sutton, after claiming Italian heritage, was referred to as "La Signora Sutton-Fantoni." She performed the lead role for the opening of Bellini's opera, Norma, at the Park Theater in New York on Feburary 25, 1842. The opera had been adapted for an English audience by her husband. See Vera Brodsky Lawrence, Strong on Music: The New York Music Scene in the Days of George Templeton Strong—Volume I: Resonances 1836–1849 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 132, 138. [back]

3. The Park Theater was located on Park Row, near City Hall Park, before burning down in 1848. [back]

4. Arthur Edward Seguin (1809–1852) was a renowned English "base singer" who, while studying at the Royal Academy of Music, met Anne Childe, his future wife and collaborator. He enjoyed "a most prosperous starring career of several years at the Park and other principal theatres of the Union." See Joseph N. Ireland, Records of the New York Stage, from 1750 to 1860 (New York: T. H. Morrell, 1867), 277; Katherine K. Preston, Opera on the Road: Traveling Opera Troupes in the United States, 1825-60 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 51. Anne Childe Seguin (1814–1888) was an accomplished English soprano who first performed at the Park Theatre in March 1841 and experienced her "greatest American hit at that theatre in 1844, as Arline, in the 'Bohemian Girl'" (Ireland, 281). Also see Preston, 51. [back]

5. Charles Manvers was a skilled English tenor who performed in the United States until 1851 (Ireland, 299–300; Preston, 40–41). [back]

6. Jane Ayres was an English actress who frequently performed at the Park Theatre. She was known for playing "chambermaids, romps, and rural damsels with great archness and spirit." Her last New York performance occurred around 1844 (Ireland, 231). [back]

7. Kate Horn was an English actress who "first appeared in Sudden Thoughts, a farce, in October 1840." After an early career performance, she was described as "so well satisfied with the impression made by her personal charms, that she took no pains to prove that she possessed talent of any kind." However, later in her career, "she was discovered to be worthy of praise for her general merit as a leading stock-actress" (Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman's Selected Journalism, eds. Douglass Noverr and Jason Stacy [Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014], 116; Ireland, 353–354. [back]

8. Whitman is possibly referring to W.B. Chapman, or his nephew Henry Chapman. Both actors performed in New York theatrical productions throughout the mid-nineteenth century (Ireland, 459). [back]

9. Whitman may be referring to an actor named Lambert who, in 1838, "made his American début as Griffinhoof, in the farce of 'Shocking Events.'" He was considered to be a "valuable actor in old men" and "was most favorably regarded throughout the season" (Ireland, 275). [back]

10. Thomas Placide (1809–1877) was an American actor of French descent who some described as a "very capital low comedian," while others claimed he was "one of the most careful of actors." Regardless, his career was very successful. "[H]e played in the principal theatres in the Union," such as the Chatham Garden and Park Theatres in New York City, and managed his own theatre in New Orleans during the 1850s. See N. M. Ludlow, Dramatic Life as I Found It: A Record of Personal Experience (St. Louis: G. I. Jones and Company, 1880), 703–706; O. A. Roorbach, Actors as They Are: A Series of Sketches of the Most Eminent Performers Now on the Stage (New York: O. A. Roorbach, 1856), 75–77. [back]

11. John Sefton (1805–1868) was an English actor who gained renown throughout New York for his portrayal of Jemmy Twitcher in the play, the Golden Farmer. He played an "English pickpocket" and his performance was considered a "unique and laughable personation, that has never been equaled in this country." By 1845, Sefton had played Jemmy Twitcher 360 times in New York City. At one point, he served as the "stage-manager" of the Garden Theatre in New York City (Ireland, 167, 444; Ludlow, 326, 502). [back]

12. Thomas Dartmouth Rice (1808–1860) was a comedian who became famous throughout America and Europe for his song, "Jim Crow," and his minstrel shows. Featuring white performers in "blackface," these shows reinforced racial stereotypes of African Americans. Despite not being the first to perform in this manner, Rice was considered "the founder and father of Ethiopian minstrelsy." One source estimated that Rice "probably drew more money to the Bowery treasury than any other American performer in the same period of time." Minstrel shows were so popular in the 1830s and 40s that Robert Nowatzki claims they "served as a national form of entertainment" (Ireland, 55–56; Robert Nowatzki, "Paddy Jumps Jim Crow: Irish-Americans and Blackface Minstrelsy," Éire-Ireland 41, no. 3&4 [2006]: 165). Also see Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). [back]

13. Edwin Forrest (1806–1872) was one of the most famous American actors in the mid-nineteenth century. He achieved fame in New York City in the 1820s for his forceful and aggressive style of acting. In the 1840s, he was known for his rivalry with William Macready, a British actor, which partially instigated the 1849 Astor Place Riot. Forrest's widespread popularity led to him being crowned "the founder of the American school of acting." N. M Ludlow, when describing how, before Forrest, American actors had largely copied their English contemporaries, stated, "Forrest changed all this . . . Intensely American himself, he Americanized the stage in this country." Ludlow further claimed that Forrest was instrumental in "completing our emancipation from foreign precedents and standards" (Ludlow, 684–696; Roorbach, 5–7). [back]

14. Whitman may be referring to the American actress, Josephine Clifton (1814?–1847). She first performed at the Bowery Theatre in New York City in 1831, and due to her popularity, became the "first American actress of any importance to play major roles in England." Her success was due to her "beauty of face and person," "youth," and "careful training." Despite these positives, she was considered to possess only "average talents, for she possessed little of the true fire of genius" (Gerald Bordman and Thomas Hischak, The Oxford Companion to American Theatre [New York: Oxford University Press, 2004], 134; Ireland, 17–18.) [back]


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